How Western Governments Have Failed Palestinian Children

Western governments, those with the power to do something about Palestinian children's sorrowful predicament, too often only address Israeli fears while downplaying the horrifying realities faced by Palestinian children.
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My only daughter, India, just gave birth to my first granddaughter, a healthy, beautiful nine-pound baby. I am overjoyed. My tears of joy run free.

Yet, my joy is fettered by sorrow. The new arrival's birth has been cause for reflection about the world she inherits. This child, so dear to me, will not lack for opportunities, her future is wide open. I cannot, however, help but see in her the reflection of other less fortunate children. I am haunted by faces of dead innocent children in Syria gassed, either by their own government, or by rebel groups, by the little girls abducted in Nigeria, by the four small boys marked for death while playing soccer on a beach in Gaza, by the children killed and maimed in UNRWA schools, and by the faces of surviving children in all these places that should be radiant and curious and are instead fearful and traumatized.

I detest these ignominious attacks on children worldwide and the generally abject nature of our leaders' responses to them. The sway held over much of the world by militarism and religious fundamentalism, both of which I abhor, is setting back collective efforts to create a better future for our children. At the risk of being accused by apologists for the Israeli government of singling out, I shall, nevertheless, concentrate my remarks here on the illegal occupation and colonial subjugation of the indigenous Palestinian people of the lands between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan.

Over 500 little ones were brutally slain by the Israel Defense Forces this summer during its 50-day assault on the tiny coastal strip of territory that is Gaza. The decades of relentless injustice faced by Palestinian children and their families living under the terror of Israeli occupation and siege are a stain, not just on the Israeli government, but also on our collective humanity.

Where governments and the security council of the United Nations have failed to address Israel's occupation and subjugation of Palestinians, people around the world are increasingly stepping up to the plate. I have recently returned from a trip to Brussels where I served as a juror on the non-judicial Russell Tribunal on Palestine. We met, in a special emergency session, to consider the actions of the IDF in Gaza this summer, to listen to testimony from those who were there, and to determine whether the actions of the IDF might have constituted war crimes, crimes against humanity, or even, possibly, acts of genocide. The Israeli government was invited to join us but declined to respond.

The tribunal, after advice and deliberation from and by eminent international lawyers, "found evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes of murder, extermination and persecution and also incitement to genocide." Conclusions in these terms, serious as they are, too often have little meaning for the international community. They cannot expose us, safe in our homes, in a visceral way to the suffering of these people. They do not convey that Israel's assault on Gaza left approximately 373,000 Palestinian children in need of direct and specialized psychosocial support. These children have been so traumatized by the terror, death, and destruction in their daily lives that they are in urgent need of Post-Traumatic Stress Therapy. They are, in other words, shell-shocked. We all acknowledge that PTSD is deeply unsettling to see in grown men, in our own troops returning from abroad, but in entirely innocent children whose land, according to international law, has been illegally settled and occupied for decades, it is grievous and unconscionable.

Tragically, Western governments, those with the power to do something about these children's sorrowful predicament, too often only address Israeli fears while downplaying the horrifying realities faced by Palestinian children.

Such was the case days ago when President Barack Obama stated, "We have to find ways to change the 'status quo' so that both Israeli citizens are safe in their own homes and schoolchildren in their schools from the possibility of rocket fire, but also that we don't have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed as well." Hundreds of dead Palestinian children are referred to here essentially as an afterthought.

Indeed, President Obama stands firmly behind Congress in supplying Israel with the planes and tanks and bombs and drones and missiles that take innocent Palestinian lives. According to the Congressional Research Service, "Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. To date, the United States has provided Israel $121 billion in bilateral assistance. Almost all U.S. bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance." Do American taxpayers really want their hard-earned tax dollars sent to Israel to kill and maim old folks and women and children locked defenseless in what is essentially an open-air prison?

To give President Obama his due, he did at least tell Prime Minister Netanyahu that things must change. This is a step in the right direction. Netanyahu's reaction was to accuse President Obama of being 'un-American!' Un-American? Given all the negative connotations of those words, dragging us back as they do to the dark days of the McCarthy witch hunts, Prime Minister Netanyahu's comment is not only wrong, it is also deeply inappropriate and boorish.

Three times in six years the US government has stood shoulder to shoulder with Israel as its military fired on Gaza. Hopefully President Obama's admonition of the "status quo" and mild rebuke of Netanyahu will bear fruit. Sadly, the current weak ceasefire merely sets the stage for yet another assault. Rather than address and relieve the underlying lack of Palestinian freedom -- and notwithstanding calls from Jewish Voice for Peace and a growing groundswell of eloquent protest from Jewish individuals and groups in Israel and the USA attached to Judaism's central commitment to humanity -- the Israeli government seems content to pummel Gaza again and again, repeating the obscenity of killing the children in the ghetto that is Gaza.

The Obama administration rejects violent Palestinian resistance as a means to securing Palestinian liberation. And most people, including me, condemn the random launching of rockets and other missiles that might hit civilian targets. I say might, because they rarely do. This past July and August I believe there were five Israeli civilian casualties. Their friends and families have my heartfelt sympathy; every fallen loved one is a tragedy.

Having said that, it is morally bankrupt to reject nonviolent resistance.

Nonviolent resistance to Israel's occupation and brutalizing of the imprisoned indigenous people of Palestine is a moral duty for us all.

It is for reasons of conscience, and as an admirer of Gandhi, Dr. King, Nelson Mandela, and countless other dead comrades, that I am an enthusiastic supporter of the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. If you wish to join the hundreds of thousands already riding the BDS freedom bus, this link will give you further information. The Israeli government notices when musicians, by way of protest, refuse to play in Israel; when Stephen Hawking supports academic boycott by withdrawing from Israel's presidential conference; and also when any of us asks our local supermarket or corner shop if they are selling anything that supports the illegal settlements in the occupied territories.

As Gandhi had it, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

The time has come to internationalize and broaden the struggle beyond BDS through the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, and the International Criminal Court.

We need these international institutions, as too frequently propaganda subverts common sense, derides nonviolent approaches, and numbs us to the obvious injustices our governments support. Israeli leaders -- and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as well -- argued repeatedly this summer in defense of the Israeli bombardments on Gaza. The argument which was presented to the American people via the mainstream media was essentially this: 'If Americans were under attack in their cities they would fight back every bit as vigorously as Israel does.' This line of defense, this hasbara, ignores the fact that Israel has occupied, subjugated, and imprisoned Palestinians for decades. The flip side of the Israeli argument, of course, is this: 'If Americans had been imprisoned and subjugated under occupation for decades would they fight back as vigorously as Palestinians?'

The most telling and disturbing comment I read during the course of Israel's onslaught this summer was, At least this time there will be fewer Palestinian orphans as whole families have been wiped out. Imagine the despair of the mother, father, or grandfather all too aware of their powerlessness to protect the most vulnerable among them, their children.

I weep sometimes, in despair, and I make no apologies for that. The day I stop weeping for the dead innocent children (in this case in Gaza) is the day when, to quote George Orwell, "There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother."

Surely, we can do better than this!

I mentioned my daughter and granddaughter at the outset, not because I am inordinately proud, as any father and grandfather would be, but because I abhor the fact that we, taxpayers in the USA, do not demand of our government that it allow our Palestinian brothers and sisters to enjoy the same freedoms that we enjoy, that I enjoy, including the joy of having living children and grandchildren to bring light to our lives.

~ Roger Waters

P.S. The historic vote on Monday in the House of Commons of the British Parliament, the Mother of Parliaments, 274 ayes to 12 nays in favor of a motion declaring "That this house believes that the Government should recognize the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a two state solution," signals a dramatic shift in Britain's willingness to apply moral pressure on the Israeli government to end the occupation and seek a just peace.

At least for today, I am proud to be British.

If only the executive branch of the US government -- and Congress -- would follow their lead. Based on the success of US activists with BDS and Open Hillel, I am convinced that the American people will become so aware of the situation they will push their members of Congress to take a principled stand for freedom and equal rights for the Palestinian people. It's only a matter of time. Our role is to hasten that day.

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